There are multiple ways to improve your sports performance, but did you know that a focus on gut health can be incredibly beneficial? We often focus on physical training but having our gut functioning at an optimal level plays a large role in performance.

The internal environment of our gut is as important, if not more, than our external environment. At every moment of the day, there are tons of processes that are going on in your gut to maintain normal digestion and overall health. Not only has the health of our internal environment, or microbiome, been associated with physical health but mental health as well.

How Exercise and Digestion Work Together

One of the reasons that the health of the microbiome is so important is that it is home to thousands of strains of beneficial bacteria that help break down foods, allowing you to obtain more nutrients from your foods. When you combine exercise with a high-fiber, high-nutrient diet, research has shown that this can help increase good bacteria in the gut.

When there are not enough good bacteria, the impact on your digestive system can be significant. Common symptoms may include cramping, heartburn, irregularity, and more, prohibiting you from completing a race or workout. However, a healthy microbiome has been shown in the literature to have positive impacts during exercise, such as increasing the oxygen supply to working muscles.

Similarly, regular physical activity is also good for your gastrointestinal health. According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, exercise can promote a healthier gut, marked by a more diverse microbiome and a higher abundance of beneficial gut bacteria.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Gut Health?

Regardless of your fitness level, there are simple things to pay attention to that can help maximize your gut health:

Consume enough fiber.

Fiber is found in foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Adults should be eating in the neighborhood of 25 grams of fiber a day, but the average intake among adults in the U.S. is only about a third of that. While we want to consume fiber throughout the day, the one time we want to avoid it is immediately before exercise!

Get some good bacteria.

Many foods, such as yogurts, miso, tempeh, and kefir, as well as pickled foods like cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi, contain healthy bacteria that can benefit your gut.

You can also consider supplementation to support your digestive health. For example, we developed Simply Probiotic as a convenient daily supplement to help our customers feel their best every day. It’s formulated with BC30TM*, a probiotic that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria to maintain balance within your microbiome.

Keep a food log.

Changing your dietary habits can result in significant changes, both positive and negative, in your digestion. Documenting what you eat and when you eat not only helps track the amount of food you consume but this can also help pinpoint any digestive issues that might have a negative impact on your exercise plan.

*BC30TM is a trademark of the Kerry Group.

Dana Ryan

Dana RyanPh.D., MA, MBA – Director, Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education

Dr. Dana Ryan is the director of Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education at Herbalife Nutrition. She completed her doctorate in physical activity, nutrition and wellness at Arizona State University. She earned an MBA from USC and a master’s in kinesiology from San Diego State University. Dr. Ryan is also certified in nutrition for optimal health, wellness and performance.

Before joining Herbalife Nutrition, she taught exercise physiology and related courses at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), and conducted research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),* on the impact of community-based nutrition and physical activity programs on heart disease risk. A passionate athlete, Dr. Ryan enjoys all water sports, especially rowing. Her favorite Herbalife Nutrition products are Herbalife24 Liftoff®, Herbalife24® Rebuild Strength and Enrichual Hemp Facial Serum.

*The University of California does not endorse specific products or services as a matter of policy.